New York Music Daily

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Category: stoner music

Bang on a Can Marathon 2014: A Short Version (Sort Of)

[republished from New York Music Daily’s “serious music” annex Lucid Culture]

This year’s Bang on a Can Marathon continued a trend back toward the hallowed annual all-day avant garde/indie classical music celebration’s early years. The 2014 edition was shorter than any in recent memory – for awhile these things would start before noon and continue into the wee hours of the following day. This year’s roughly ten-hour extravaganza also drew more heavily on the Bang on a Can triumvirate – composers Michael Gordon, Julia WolfeDavid Lang and their circle – than on the global cast who numbered heavily and often spectacularly among the composers and performers featured throughout the previous decade. The reason? Construction at the World Financial Center atrium, where the marathon returned after being squeezed into an auditorium at Pace University last year.

The seven-piece Great Noise Ensemble, conducted by Armando Bayolo, opened auspiciously with a new chamber arrangement of Bayolo’s own Caprichos. Inspired by Goya’s series of the same name, it was a dynamic and colorful series of miniatures: apprehensive airiness, a fleeting carnivalesque passage, darkly rhythmic, looped variations, and dreamy drones juxtaposed with a lively outro. The following work, Carlos Carrillo‘s De La Brevidad De La Vida drew on the Seneca treatise, a rivetingly austere, resigned, spaciously cinematic tone poem of sorts punctuated by muted anguish, notably from Andrea Vercoe’s violin.

Violinist Adrianna Mateo became a one-woman string orchestra with Molly Joyce‘s biting, matter-of-factly crescendoing loopmusic piece Lean Back and Release. The trio Bearthoven – pianist Karl Larson, bass guitarist Pat Swoboda and drummer Matt Evans – followed a bit later with a similarly upward-sloping stoner postrock piece, Undertoad, by Brooks Frederickson. It recalled the relentless dancefloor minimalism that Cabaret Contemporain performed at the 2013 marathon.

Acclaimed vocal quartet Anonymous Four - who are sadly hanging it up after this year – shifted direction plaintively with The Wood and the Vine, from Lang’s demanding, richly echo-laden, hypnotically intertwining partita, Love Fail. Atmospheric postrock minimalists Dawn of Midi made a thematically clever segue with excerpts from their cult favorite suite, Dysnomia, replete with subtle polyrhythmic shifts that  rose rather than fell at the end. How pianist Amino Belyamani, bassist Aakaash Israni and drummer Qasim Naqvi managed to keep their place as the trance pounded onward was hard to figure. Or maybe they were just jamming.

Choral octet Roomful of Teeth sang the first two movements from Caroline Shaw‘s Pulitzer-winning Partita for 8 Voices,  incorporating squaredance calls and “a little bit of pansori,” as Shaw put it. That, and an indomitable, fresh-faced ebullience that rose and fell through ambitious rhythmic and harmonic shifts, the composer’s powerful soprano front and center. Nineteen-piece chamber orchestra Contemporaneous gave voice to Andrew Norman’s Try, a frantically bustling work replete with sardonic humor: every hint of calm gets dashed by agitated cadenzas from throughout the ensemble in a split second. There was a contrasting, calm second half, mostly for vibraphone and piano, which got lost in the real bustle of the crowd making their way up the escalator to the new mallfood court to the left of the stage.

Meredith Monk is fun! She and fellow singer Theo Bleckmann revisited four segments of her witty, Canadian wilderness-inspired Facing North song cycle, which the duo had premiered on the stage here two decades ago. Indians gamely trying to keep warm, long winter shadows and droll conversations eventually gave way to playful jousting, Bleckmann keeping a straight face as Monk needled him mercilessly. It was the big audience hit up to this point. The two returned a little later for some more monkeyshines with members of the Bang on a Can All-Stars.

Contemporaneous also returned, this time with a handful of Jherek Bischoff pieces. A brief, lushly neoromantic overture of sorts and a subdued, unexpectedly somber pavane were the highlights.

Pianists Emily Manzo and David Friend performed the day’s first genuinely herculean numbers, a pair of long, hammering, menacingly Lynchian compositions from the 80s by the late Monk collaborator and composer Julius EastmanJace Clayton‘s echoey sound mix subsumed the music in places – as a musician would say, he didn’t have a feel for the room – but all the same he deserves props as an advocate for Eastman’s frequently harrowing, undeservedly obscure work, further underscored by a brief, pretty hilarious skit that imagined a busy Julius Eastman section at a theme park.

These marathons typically pick up at the end and this one was no exception. Well-loved art-rock house band the Bang on a Can All-Stars stomped through the Trans-Siberian Orchestra style bombast of JG Thirlwell‘s Anabiosis, then vividly echoed the otherworldly, watery ambience inside the old Croton Aqueduct via Paula Matthusen‘s Ontology of an Echo. Wolfe introduced the night’s big showstopper, Big Beautiful Dark & Scary as a contemplation on the possibility of personal happiness amidst disaster, its ineluctable, anguished, frenetic waves just as viscerally thrilling as they were chilling for the New Yorkers in the crowd who’d lived through 9/11 and the aftermath that the piece portrays.

After a long lull, the ensemble returned in a slightly augmented version for Louis Andriessen’s Hoketus. It’s a diptych of sorts: two maddening, claustrophobically minimalist melodies varied only by constantly changing rhythms, a study in authoritarianism and the human impulse to resist it. When clarinetist Ken Thomson led the ensemble with a leap into the animated second movement, it seemed that the people would win this fight. Or do they?

Gordon supplied the marathon’s coda, Timber, which turned out to be the shadow image of the Andriessen work, a wry, bone-shaking exploration of the kind of fun that can be had within a set of parameters. Where Andriessen set rules, Gordon offered guidelines. Played by sextet Mantra Percussion on a series of amplified sawhorses, it worked every trope in the avant garde stoner repertoire. Trancey motorik rhythms? Deep-space pulsar drones? Overtones at the very top and also the very bottom of the sonic spectrum? Innumerable false endings, good-natured exchanges between the players (who’d memorized the entire, practically hourlong score) and a light show triggered by just about every crescendo? Check, check, check and doublecheck. Gordon may be best known for his gravitas and otherworldly intensity, but his music can be great fun and this was exactly that. With its rolling drones echoing throughout the atrium like a distant storm on the Great Plains, it sent the crowd out into the night on a note that was both adrenalizing and soothing. It’s hard to imagine anything more fun to wind up a Sunday night in June in New York.

Two Intense Guitarists Steal the Show at the Mercury

Wednesday’s show at the Mercury ultimately boiled down to great lead guitar. Expat Australian five-piece band Reserved For Rondee are tight and talented, lead player Billy Magnussen proving to be the star of that particular show. You might assume that a band opening for the Last Internationale would think segue, backloading their set with the heavy stuff. Reserved for Rondee did the opposite. Then again, like so many bands from down under, they have zero regard for convention, mixing up genres that make no sense at all together. And most of the time it worked. Early 70s stoner rock with disco bass and drums? Check. Classic Motown mashed up with new wave, but heavier? Doublecheck. But the their best stuff came early in the set, Magnussen firing off searing, lickety-split blues riffage over beats that drummer Warren Hemenway switched up effortlessly from funky to dinosaurian, in an In Through the Out Door way. Rhythm guitarist Nick Focas and bassist Tom Degnan supplied the catchy changes as Magnussen spun through volleys of icy bluesmetal, hitting his volume pedal, mixing up the reverb and delay and a little later, wailing through a vintage analog chorus effect for a deliciously shivery, watery tone.

The only song that didn’t work, at least musically, was a shout-out to the band’s new home, Bushwick. First there was some shameless borough-centric namechecking in the same vein as what bands like the Easybeats were doing 45 years ago, tossing around gratuitous American references in hopes of scoring a hit here. But then there was a surprise: the gentrifiers at the center of the song see their “boutique everything” world disintegrate and end up on the street with their less fortunate neighbors!

By the time the Last Internationale hit the stage, the place was packed. Guitarist Edgey Pires comes from the same place as Magnussen, although his brand of blues is more unhinged and raw, part Fred “Sonic” Smith, part Jon Spencer. Where Magnussen varied his textures,  trebly Fender Twin natural distortion was enough for Pires to work with, delivering highs that shrieked and whined when he wasn’t flailing his way through terse, hypnotic vamps, wielding his reverb-fueled chords and savage, bluesy swipes like a machete. Frontwoman Delila Paz began the show playing a gorgeous vintage Vox Teardrop bass, switched to acoustic guitar a little later and then put it down for the rest of the show, swaying and belting with an impassioned, throaty intensity and a wide-angle vibrato. Most of the set was new songs from a forthcoming album due out later this summer, the best of which, We Will Reign, sounded like Patti Smith fronting the MC5. Both comparisons extend beyond the music to Paz’s defiant, confrontational lyrics. Her most memorable line reflected how quickly a hippie peace-and-love vibe collapses when the cops show up and send in the stormtroopers. Strangely, Paz’s most intense moment behind the mic – an anguished a-cappella gospel interlude – was the one place where she lost the crowd. Then drummer Brad Wilk (formerly of Rage Against the Machine) kicked in and everybody shut up and listened.

Green Party Lieutenant Governor candidate Brian Jones introduced the set and explained his platform. Universal single-payer healthcare met with barely any response, but when Jones mentioned returning to this state’s previous, decades-long policy of free college tuition at New York State schools, the crowd roared. And They responded even more energetically to raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Jones backloaded his own little set by promising to legalize marijuana if elected and received the kind of cheers you would expect from a crowd in a city whose new mayor hasn’t delivered on his own vow to back off on pot busts.

A Rare NYC Show and a Killer Roots Reggae Album by Israel’s Zvuloon Dub System

Israeli band Zvuloon Dub System play Ethiopian music, roots reggae style. A bright brass section carries the haunting modal riffs that make music from Ethiopia so instantly distinguishable from every other style on the planet. Add lustrous, ominous organ and spare, jangly guitar, occasionally played through a wah. Set that to a deep one-drop groove from the bass and drums, with a clavinova doubling the bassline a lot of the time, and you have a good idea what they sound like. They’ve got a new album, Anbessa Dub (Spotify link) and a gig at SOB’s on June 15 at 9 PM; $10 adv tix are highly recommended

The album opens strongly with the ominously organ-fueled minor-key instrumental Alemitu, followed by the slinky Tenesh Kelbe Lay, which is basically a blues. Like a lot of the songs here, this one alludes to but never hits the undulating triplet groove that so much of Ethiopian music has. And it fades out rather than hitting a decisive ending. Likewise, Sab Sam would be Afrobeat if the beat was faster; the organ solo midway through, sliding down with an icily watery tone, is arguably the high point of the album.

Man Begelgelni mashes up jazz-tinged 70s soul guitar, a bouncy, Bob Marleyesque vamp and droll video game effects from the synth, an overview of thirty years of roots reggae through a sun-warped Ethiopian prism. Strong baritone singer Mahmoud Ahmed guests on Ney Denun Tieshe, which with its incisively wary alto sax solo and bubbly guitar sounds like Debo Band at halfspeed. Creepy, carnivalesque organ gives Yehoden Awetech Lengeresh a psychedelic 70s edge, while Tsbukti Fektret, with guest singer Yaakov Lilay, gives the guitar a chance to get especially weird and trippy, its trebly tone almost a dead ringer for an electric harpsichord against the incisive horn riffage.

The warm, soul-inspired Endermenesh, sung by Zemene Melesse, sounds like a stripped-down Ethiopian take of Marley’s Could You Be Loved, lit up by oldschool soul guitar and purposeful trombone. Zelel Zelel returns to the blend of peak-era Marley, Ethiopiques and early 80s dub, with yet more of that deliciously macabre funeral organ. The album ends with Yene Almaz, a hypnotic, slowly swaying folk tune with screechy riti fiddle as the lead instrument. If classic reggae grooves, or Ethiopian music, or stoner sounds in general are your thing, don’t miss a rare chance to see this mysterious and excellent band live.

Sean Noonan Conjures Up More Menacing Magic

A pavee is an Irish Tinker, a member of the nomadic tribe who’ve spread culture, repair and reinvention across the Emerald Isle for centuries. Drummer Sean Noonan saw a connection between those travelers and what the band he’d pulled together for his latest album was doing during their lone rehearsal for it, so he was inspired to name Pavees Dance, his collection of darkly surrealistic, shapeshifting, highly improvised art-rock mini-epics, after them. The band also happens to be well-traveled: Aram Bajakian, Lou Reed’s last lead player, who might just be the most exciting guitarist in any style of music right now; bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, who famously did a long stint in free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman’s band; and Can co-founder Malcolm Mooney, who was largely responsible for making that band’s debut album Monster Movie so monstrous, on vocals. This feral, individualistic crew wil be playing the album release show on May 30 at around 9 at Bowery Electric. Advance tix are $10; the show looks like it’s going to be a wild one.

Noonan’s previous album A Gambler’s Hand blended indie classical, chamber metal and art-rock, a collaboration with a string quartet assembled from the ranks of rising star indie classical Cadillac Moon Ensemble and fiery string group Trio Tritticali. This one’s even more of a rock record, equal parts punk, psychedelia and downtown jazz. Much as there’s obviously a lot of improvisation going on, it’s tight and focused, with the same relentless menace, sometimes distant, sometimes in your face, that characterized Noonan’s last album.

The brief opening track sets the stage, Noonan’s clustering drums holding it all together as Bajakian veers from Arto Lindsay skronk, to warps, scrapes, squalls and scratches while Tacuma goes from judicious ornamentation to a steady walk and then back. Mooney’s nonchalantly haphazard vocals, part spoken word, part proto-punk, raise the unease factor to redline. Sometimes he repeats a mantra, other times veers all over the map, so it’s hard to tell what, other than madness, he’s carrying on about in his weatherbeaten rasp. Which in itself makes perfect sense with the music.

Tacuma’s bass builds to an ominous gallop on the mini-suite There’s Always the Night, which takes a dive into Beatlesque flamenco-tinged rock, shifts to pounding skronk and then terse punk-funk. Quick Pick begins as an acid funk theme and then goes into creepy late 70s King Crimson territory, then shades of both the Grateful Dead and reggae before Bajakian hits a reverb-drenched, wailing, trickily syncopated crescendo. Moonwalk begins as a low-key vintage soul ballad, Noonan picking it up to practically hardcore-style agitation, then Bajakian channels Ron Asheton with a wah circa 1969 – the way the band effortlessly and instantly shifts between idioms and eras here might sound awkward, but in their hands it’s the most natural thing in the world.

No Strings Attached is a showcase for Bajakian at his most elegant, evoking David Gilmour with his gleaming, resonant Brain Damage lines while Tacuma solos with a similarly purposeful, horn-inspired attack. The final track, Portrait of a Heartless Lover reverts to juxtaposing oldschool soul with acidic King Crimson art-rock – although Noonan is a vastly more nuanced and down-to-earth drummer than Bill Bruford. Bajakian’s vintage art-rock lead builds to the one point on the album where the center collapses into raw noise, Mooney leading them out with a darkly sardonic tale that’s either about a murder or at least a psychic one.

In addition to the album, there’s a companion book – also available as an e-book – featuring both the lyrics as well as Mooney’s original album art and plus poetry by Mooney, Marquita Pool-Eckert and Lowell Henry.

Quirky, Trippy, Ethereal Vocal Adventures with Singer Emilie Weibel’s oMoO

Swiss-born, Brooklyn-based singer Emilie Weibel’s quirky, ethereal, sometimes mesmerizing oMoO solo project = Bjork + Stereolab divided by Laurie Anderson in minimalist musique concrète mode. That may sound reductionistic, but there are elements of all three in play on her debut album, much of which is streaming at her music page. Much as there’s an irrepressible “let’s throw THIS in the blender now and see what happens” esthetic here, Weibel’s sonic adventure is a lot more focused than what you usually get from your typical girl with laptop and time on her hands. She’s playing the album release show for this one on May 22 at 8 PM Greenwich House Music School, 46 Barrow St. in the west village on an excellent double bill with the similarly inclined Sara Serpa, who is also releasing a new album, a duo with guitarist Andre Matos.

As you would expect, some of the oMoO pieces are playful and fun; others have a hypnotic, sometimes narcotic quality. Weibel opens the album’s firs track, Lemania with a grinningly suspenseful build to a big whoop and then a slow acid-jazz groove, a rapt depiction of mountainside majesty. On Footprints, she sets out-of-the-box Joni Mitchell jazz vocals over a casual but trickily strolling rhythm, hits another big vocal swoop and then switches languages from English to French as a storm brews in the distance. The downtempo, ethereal Paola is a showcase for Weibel’s breathy upper register, followed by the similarly laid-back but animated Tu Dis and its layers of multitracked, whimsically jazz-tinged vocals.

As you’d expect from its title, Weibel sings the brief music-box lullaby L’Heure Exquise in her native French, with a rapt tenderness. River Song morphs out of hip-hop samples, a djembe loop and a tinkling mobile  into a trip-hop travelogue with hazy high harmonies. The project’s signature song, oMoO (a Herman Melville reference, in case you were wondering), juxtaposes seaside ambience with gently dancing vocals. The closing cut, Hello Lea is the quirkiest, asking how life is in the clouds while “losing my mind with sheep and clowns” [WARNING: this track contains a sample of a car alarm]. Weibel’s music asks more questions than it answers and gives the listener plenty of room to reflect and consider what those might be.

Jaro Milko & the Cubalkanics Blow Up in Your Face

Jaro Milko & the Cubalkanics’ new album Cigarros Explosivos – streaming at Bandcamp – sounds kind of like a Balkan version of Chicha Libre. Yeah, that good. The Firewater lead guitarist proves to be as original and interesting playing Peruvian surf music as his Brooklyn counterparts, who jumpstarted the whole chicha revival. It reaffirms how the cumbia revolution has taken over the entire globe – or at least established a base pretty much everywhere. This seems to be as much of a deviously tongue-in-cheek homage to classsic Peruvian sounds as it is a mix of killer original chicha grooves. Another band this brings to mind, for its surreal sense of humor and frequently cinematic sensibility, is Finnish surf legends Laika & the Cosmonauts.

The opening track, Cumbia Griega sets the stage, taking a classic Los Mirlos bassline and then coming together around a spiky Enrique Delgado-style hammer-on guitar riff from Milko, who plays an army’s worth of guitars here. After Eric Gilson’s organ and Eric Gut’s drums come in, it sounds like Chicha Libre in noir mode, part creepy surf, part Peruvian psychedelica.

El Topo could be an early Los Straitjackets number- the band turns up the distortion and adds the hint of a New Orleans shuffle beat. Over a dark reggae groove, All the Past ponders what’s left for a culture after “money’s here for joy in the world of desire” and pushes everything else out of the picture…more or less. Cumbia #5, which happens to be the fourth track, builds a dubwise tropical atmosphere and then shifts to blippy southern Balkan-flavored electric guitar jazz.

Miseria adds swing, hints of flamenco and ominous organ to a classic psychedelic cumbia vamp. The album’s longest track, Summer in January builds a wry, wistful seaside tableau. Where Chicha Libre bring in a French influence, these guys do the same with the Balkans, with a similar wit and erudition – and in this case, Milko’s elegant twelve-string guitar lines.

A brisk Balkan tango with some sizzling tremolo-picked guitar, Belly’s Bounce sounds like Laika & the Cosmonauts with horns, Milko’s frenetic lead lines contrasting with Lukas Briggen’s suave trombone. El Perro evokes Peruvian psychedelic legends Los Destellos working a LA lowrider groove, but more aggressively, while Herido blends Del Shannon noir with a creepy bolero: it’s arguably the album’s strongest track.

Danza Mentirosa keeps the creepy vibe going, a dubwise crime jazz theme that evokes Big Lazy with an organ. Cumbia Orientale is not a cumbia but an ominously marching Vegas tango, while Nah Neh Nah introduces a surfed-up ye-ye pop theme, Milko first playing a little Django and then a whole lot of Django: the guy’s an amazing guitarist. The album winds up with the surreal, cynical, rhythmically dizzying, disquieting Music Rum & Cha Cha Cha. Until Chicha Libre makes another album, this is the best recent mix of south-of-border psychedelics you’ll find anywhere.

New Electric Ride’s Balloon Age: Brilliantly Crazed Retro 60s Psychedelia

British group New Electric Ride are a period-perfect, fantastic mid-60s style psychedelic rock band. As their new album Balloon Age goes on, it becomes a wickedly funny, good-natured parody of mid-60s style psychedelia of all kinds. The Rutles, XTC’s Dukes of Stratosphear albums or Love Camp 7‘s Love Camp VII album are the closest thing to what they’re doing here, a spot-on evocation of tropes from across the acid rock and acid pop spectrum, right down to the vintage guitar, bass and keyboard sounds. The whole delicious thing is streaming at their Bandcamp page.

A trippy orchestral intro opens the first number, Here Comes the Bloom, which is sort of the 13th Floor Elevators doing Sergeant Pepper. There’s some twelve-string jangle from 60s guitar polymath Jack Briggs, then an unexpectedly ominous, shuffling bridge that works its way down to Adam Cole’s fuzz bass riff before the fun begins all over again. Marquis de Sade imagines the old philosopher as a stoner, from a funky Cream intro, through a little early Santana and then a galloping proto-metal interlude fueled by Craig Oxberry’s artful drums before some very funny vocals kick in.

From Paul Nelson’s faux-vibraphone keyboard intro through its intensely catchy slide guitar riffage contrasting with offcenter, lushly watery vintage chorus-box guitar – and what might be a murder mystery narrative – Bye Bye Baton Rouge is arguably the album’s strongest track. A Submarine Song is where the satire really gets heavy, in this case a litany of White Album-era Beatles references. The lyrics are just as funny: “Diving deep through the foam and brine I spin, tickling fins and dodging whales,” but this would-be Jules Verne isn’t allowed to tell the tale since it’s classified information!

The slow, slinky I Feel So Invited lampoons an Abbey Road vamp, Briggs’ anachronistic Dick Dale-style tremolo-picking knocking everything else to the side. In Chains, from the band’s previous ep, shoots for a psychedelic organ soul sound a la the Spencer Davis Group or Vanilla Fudge, rising to more of that killer, watery guitar. Lovers, another track that first appeared on the ep, goes back to stealing wryly from the Fab Four.

I Can’t Help but Smile, the poppiest track here, evokes the Moody Blues circa In Search of the Lost Chord trying to bring a little bossa nova into their psych-folk shuffle. The Beyond mingles more epic Moody Blues with early War-style latin soul, the Byrds, a droll quote from the Lemon Pipers and a bizarre Jefferson Airplane outro – in case anybody was wondering if these guys knew their source material or not, this seals the deal. As they did with their ep, the band take their sound a little further into the 70s to close the album with the ominously harmony-driven From Under Me, its darkly swaying, blues-tinged Pretty Things atmospherics spiced with lively brass. Much as there are droll and squirrelly effects here, the overall ambience is more straight-ahead and serious…but then again with this band, you never know how much they’re messing with your mind. That’s what makes this album, a lock for one of the best of 2014, so much fun.

Good Cop and Bad Cop Review LJ Murphy Plus the Byzan-Tones

Good Cop: I think this is our big break. We’ve never been given an assignment this good.

Bad Cop: Back on the Columbus shuttle.

Good Cop: You mean the Scranton shuttle.

Bad Cop: I can’t get used to Scranton being a Yankees farm club. It was part of the Phillies system for as long as I can remember.

Good Cop: Now that’s going back a ways! Anyway, tonight we get to review LJ Murphy, the best rock songwriter in town, and then the Byzan-Tones, an awesome surf band! This is a big deal for us! You notice we’ve been getting better assignments lately?

Bad Cop: If you say so…

Good Cop: Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside, then Red Baraat, and this the best yet! If we don’t screw this one up there’s no telling how far we’ll go! [Good Cop elbows Bad Cop in the ribs]

Bad Cop [winces} Ouch! Don’t kid yourself. We haven’t had any assignment from this blog, good or bad, since July. We only got to cover that Sallie Ford concert because the blog had reviewed the record a couple of days before. We only got to do Red Baraat because the story wasn’t the music, it was that horrible experience in Central Park. So if this blog hadn’t reviewed LJ Murphy back in November, we’d still be in Col…I mean, Scranton.

Good Cop: Well, goodbye Scranton. hello Parkside Lounge on a Saturday night! [LJ Murphy,wearing a black suit and porkpie hat and holding a big black acoustic guitar, takes the stage along with his lead guitarist, keyboardist and drummer. With no bass, they launch into a swinging blues]

Bad Cop: I guess this is soundcheck.

Good Cop: I don’t think so. They did the song all the way through. I know this one: it’s Another Lesson I Never Learned.

Bad Cop: Guess they lost their bass player.

Good Cop: Not as far as I know. Nils Sorensen’s also in Brothers Moving, you know, that great Danish Americana band so maybe he had a conflict. And check out Patrick McLellan, he’s playing basslines with his left hand on the piano! At this point they don’t need a bass player…

Bad Cop [emphatically] Oh yes they do. But this guy’s good. Real good. Picked up on what was missing right away and took care of business.

Good Cop: I can’t believe somebody this good is playing the Parkside.

Bad Cop: Classic case of a guy stuck in the New York scene. In this town, you play to your friends. There’s no central scene with any significant following that you can leverage anymore. Here’s a guy who’s as good a songwriter as Richard Thompson, or Steve Earle, or Aimee Mann – and he’s younger than all of them – but he never got to take the band on the road. And he’s a band guy, not a singer-songwriter.

Good Cop: And he’s got a sizeable European following too. Funny how these things happen, isn’t it?

Bad Cop: Sound is not good tonight.

Good Cop: You know the Parkside, it can be good one night and not so good the next.

Bad Cop: It’s the piano. The low mids are feeding. And you can’t hear the electric guitar.

Good Cop: That’s Tommy Hoscheid. Great player. I see he brought his Gibson SG.

Bad Cop: He’s gonna need it.

Good Cop: Oh, I love this song. This is Happy Hour. Anybody who’s suffered through having to hang out with work “friends” in the financial district needs to hear this, it’ll validate you. And I love how LJ has rearranged it as an oldschool Stax/Volt shuffle.

Bad Cop: I liked it better when it was straight up janglerock. At least that’s one thing you can count on with this guy: you never know what you’re gonna get. Always rearranging things. The Faulkner of the three minute rock song. And you notice, he changed the lyric: it used to be “brotherhood of useless warts” instead of “brotherhood of sold and bought.”

Good Cop: That doesn’t rhyme with “one eye on the secretary and the other on the quarterly report.”

Bad Cop: It does if you’re from Queens.

Good Cop: True. “Their daytime dramas wait at home on videocassette,” that’s a really twisted line.

Bad Cop: It wasn’t back when he wrote it. These days you think of a spycam, or a webcam, right? Back then it was like something you Tivoed – except in analog, in real time, and everybody did it, and it actually wasn’t twisted at all. Ha, necessarily, at least. I remember this one time rushing home to record an episode of Survivor for this chick…

Good Cop: I can imagine where you’re going with that. Anyway – check out that creepy cascade from Patrick! This is Mad Within Reason, title track from LJ’s most recent album. “The music was sampled from Bach to James Brown, they saddled the mistress and lowered her down.” Nobody’s writing lyrics like that these days!

Bad Cop: Oh yeah they are. Four words for you: Hannah Versus the Many. But this guy’s good, always has been. “While everybody tried to become what they hate” – and another creepy piano cascade. This is sweet.

Good Cop: This next one’s even sweeter. Pretty for the Parlor – Long Island sniper gone on a spree. What a great tune this is – it’s anthemic, but not derivative or Beatlesque, it’s just good. And full of surprises. “The machinegun mama’s boy has called in sick today,” yum!

Bad Cop: OK, he’s gonna bring it down now. Waiting by the Lamppost for You: a period-perfect blend of sixties soul and blues. “Moonlight delays me, daylight betrays me, I’m hungover and showing my years.” Do you hear Nightclubbing, you know, the Iggy song?

Good Cop: Not unless it’s blasting through the wall from next door. Is that place still a disco?

Bad Cop: We’re at the Parkside, not the Mercury. Nobody next door. Deli across the street.

Good Cop: Oh yeah! Now this drummer’s good. A jazz guy maybe. They’re really rocking out Lonely Avenue – you know, the old Elvis song.

Bad Cop: Doc Pomus wrote it. Orthodox Jewish guy from Brooklyn. Now this is where you lose me, white guys playing the blues.

Good Cop: Aw, c’mon, the audience loves it.

Bad Cop: Once you’ve heard T-Bone Walker do Stormy Monday, all other versions are useless.

Good Cop: T-Bone Walker died before you were born.

Bad Cop: T-Bone Walker actually died when I was in the third grade I think. But I have the album.

Good Cop: This next song is Damaged Goods. What did LJ say, this is the first song he ever wrote in Brooklyn after moving from Queens?

Bad Cop: Guess he must have had the Wall Street job back then. Dungeoness and her crabs, more or less. This guy was on to what Eliot Spitzer and that crew were up to before anybody else was.

Good Cop: Now they’re going back from new wave to noir. This is Fearful Town. Did you hear Patrick quote Riders on the Storm?

Bad Cop [derisively]: Everybody does that. But this is a good song. This is why I came out tonight. Now this speaks to me. This is why I’m here and not someplace else. This guy speaks for anybody who used to live in this neighborhood. “Raided my old hangouts, put away my friends, now I’m sitting on a bonfire on a night that never ends.” LES, 2014, we are with you LJ Murphy!

Good Cop: You’re breaking character. You’re not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to hate everything.

Bad Cop: And you’re breaking the fourth wall. You’re not supposed to do that. What am I supposed to do? I complained about the sound. The blues medley left me cold. But I like this guy. Despite myself. Even this one. This next song is Nowhere Now. Sort of a twisted Chuck Berry kind of thing. I can’t figure it out for the life of me. Maybe it’s about America, all that “200 years of hoping, you’re not hoping anymore” stuff. What do you think?

Good Cop: That’s what I love about LJ’s songs, they draw you in and make you figure out what’s going on. Now this one’s easy, Blue Silence – they’re going to rock the hell out of this.

Bad Cop: And they do. And then they close with Barbed Wire Playpen, another Wall Street dungeoness crab scenario.

Good Cop: Ha ha funny.

Bad Cop: Couldn’t resist. And now we’re off to Otto’s.

Good Cop [about ten minutes later, at Otto’s Shrunken Head]: Holy shit, this place is packed. I haven’t seen Otto’s like this, maybe, ever.

Bad Cop: And we didn’t even get carded walking in.

Good Cop [laughs]: Nobody would ever card you.

Bad Cop: The doofus at the door, the skinhead, once chased me to the back and screamed at me until I showed him my I.D. This is recent, like, last year.

Good Cop: You can’t be serious.

Bad Cop: I’m completely serious. A guy at the bar saw the whole exchange, he came up to me afterward and said he couldn’t believe what he’d just witnessed.

Good Cop: I can’t either. But we’re here. And this band is great! What a cool doublebill it’s been, two venues, two great bands. That’s George Sempepos on lead guitar, I can’t see who’s playing bass or drums, and that’s Steve Antonakos on guitar too.

Bad Cop: They used to have an electric oud. Now that was wild. Psychedelic Greek surf music. I remember coming back from seeing them at the Blu Lounge in Williamsburg, this must have been around 2003 or so, completely shitfaced, this is at about four in the morning and I’m waiting forever at 14th Street for the F and I’d recorded the show so I pulled out my recorder and started blasting the Byzan-tones right there on the platform. And everybody was down with it.

Good Cop: You’re lucky you didn’t get arrested.

Bad Cop: Nobody arrests me!

Good Cop: OK. Now I can’t keep track of whether these songs are originals, or they’re psychedelic rock hits from Greece in the 1960s.

Bad Cop: My understanding is that they’re originals. But they sound like old Mediterranean stoner music. Except with more of a surf beat. Now this version of the band is a little brighter and a lot tighter than I remember them being.

Good Cop: And look, the crowd is really into this! This is music from a culture that doesn’t even use our alphabet and peeps are loving this! And the place is so packed that we can’t even get into the back room!

Bad Cop: Hold your fire. We would be able to if this was Lakeside. Oh yeah, Lakeside is gone now. But you get my point. And besides, it’s surf night, half the crowd came from Connecticut, they’re not going to leave for awhile. Captive audience. What every band needs in this century in this town.

Good Cop: Lots of Arabic sounds in this band. And minor keys, and tricky tempos. I can’t figure out what this one is in.

Bad Cop: Me neither. I’ve been drinking since before I left for the Parkside. Sorry.

Good Cop: Now this song is called Pontic Pipeline. Doesn’t sound like Pipeline, though.

Bad Cop: I think the reference is a little…um…what’s the word I want? Oblique? How does that sound ?

Good Cop: Sounds like Arabic rock to me. I love this band, and how the two guitars sometimes harmonize…and how Steve fakes how he’s playing with a slide even though he’s just bending the strings…and now George is singing. In a low, cool baritone, in Greek! What’s the likelihood of seeing something like this outside of Astoria?

Bad Cop: Or outside of Athens.

Good Cop: Point taken. OK, time to go. What a cool night this was! I can’t wait to do this again!

Bad Cop [pulls a flask from inside his trenchcoat and drains it]: OK, see you in July. Or in Col…I mean Scranton.

Revisiting the Frank Flight Band’s Darkly Brilliant Psychedelia

This is not a place to look for old music: the focus here is typically on the here and now. Even so, the rock n roll highway is littered with the skeleton frames of burnt-out bands that deserve to be remembered far better than they are. The Frank Flight Band, from Southport in the UK, are still going strong – and they’re one of the world’s most underrated psychedelic bands, sort of a British counterpart to Blue Oyster Cult. That they’ve released the grand total of three albums in over fifteen years might have something to do with their cult status. However, they’re far from unknown: they’ve spent time on the road, including a tour with Wishbone Ash. Their 2013 album Remains (streaming at Soundcloud) was one of the most darkly exhilarating releases in any style of music last year and is so far the high point of their career. But their previous two albums – Outrunning the Sun and The Sun Will Shine on You – are also worth owning. Fans in Southport can catch the band on February 21 at 9 PM at Victoria Pub, 42-43 Stanley Terrace Promenade.

Flight, with his relentlessly bleak, surreal vision and immersion in decades of psychedelic rock, is the main songwriter and rhythm guitarist but not the frontman. That role is held by Andy Wrigley, whose ageless, weatherbeaten voice is an apt vehicle for Flight’s brooding, often doomed tunesemithing, which like Blue Oyster Cult owes a significant debt to the Doors. Bassist Danny Taylor and drummer Dave Veres have been in and out of the band but are currently in, and are on all the recordings, testament to the pair’s lysergic chemistry and skintight groove. That each of the three albums has a different lead guitarist, yet the sound remains the same, testifies to Flight’s persisently uneasy vision. Although current lead player Alex Kenny is the strongest and bluesiest of the bunch, Dave Thornley and Colins Rens also distinguish themselves as purist, tasteful, incisive, blues-infused players. Likewise, while current keyboardist Michael Woodward stands out for his ornate, Richard Wright-class orchestration, Mark Wainwright, who’s on the first two albums, is also a strong, purposeful organist and pianist.

Thornley’s lone contribution, songwise, to The Sun Will Shine on You (released in 2011) is the catchy, distantly flamenco-tinged Hard Liquor and Grass, which Wrigley delivers more earnestly and seriousmindedly than possibly any other song ever written about getting stoned. The rest of the album is even more serious, existentially and musically speaking. Unsurprisingly, it opens with an antiwar anthem, Went the Day Well, a martial shuffle that juxtaposes battlefield horror with smarmy generals sipping wine out of range of the slaughter while “the leaders of each nation just shrug and walk away.” The band follows that with The Drover’s Wife and the Drifter, a dusky, swaying, folk-tinged anthem, sort of Pink Floyd doing Sympathy for the Devil. Thornley’s echoey, multitracked guitar solos are straight out of 1975, an era this band evokes over and over.

Bird of Prey takes a similarly Doorsy groove and adds ornate gothic tinges in the same vein as Ninth House, with a Light My Fire organ quote exactly where it ought to be and a counterintuitive emotional shift as the song goes on (most of this band’s songs are long, often clocking in at over ten minutes). The blue-sky instrumental Make Believe Highway sounds like Bill Frisell with a rock rhythm section – it’s one of the strongest tunes on the album.

Not in Vain mixes blues, country, soul and a little Tex-Mex behind Flight’s bitter returning soldier’s narrative: “The only hero that doesn’t cause offense is the one that comes back dead,” Wrigley intones. The title track, an eleven-minute epic, foreshadows the direction Flight would take on the next album with its Santana-esque sway, surreal spoken-word vocals and wailing Molly Hatchet/Outlaws guitar outro. Samples of birdsong open and close the album, a device the band turns to for an unexpectedly creepy effect.

Outrunning the Sun finds Flight exploring the latin side of rock, Colin Rens handling the lead guitar. This album is considerably longer, twelve tracks interrupted by the occasional, fleeting instrumental. Recorded in 1999, Flight shelved it and then finally released it ten years later – and the world of psychedelia is better for it. The sixteen-minute title epic slowly coalesces into an uneasy Shine on You Crazy Diamond vamp and then slowly picks up like Santana doing the Doors’ LA Woman, with a long acid blues solo from Rens and some genuinely poetic, metaphorically-charged spoken-word vocals by Wrigley and Taylor.

Tourniquet, a bitter kiss-off anthem, vamps along with a richly jangly ominousness up to another long, pensive Rens guitar solo. Beach House begins as a balmy seaside tableau until the rhythm section kicks in and the darkness makes its way in, hitting a long peak with an unselfconsciously gorgeous guitar solo over Veres’ tumbling drums. Season of Promise is sort of an artsier take on Black Magic Woman, growing more and more intoxicatingly lush as the band adds layer after layer of guitar to the mix: Flight’s chords and voicings are vastly more interesting and varied than merely simple strumming, and once again Rens throws in a nonchalantly biting solo, this time on acoustic.

The band follows Flight’s baroque-tinged miniature Preparations for the May Day Ball with the haunting anthem Better Not Shout , the first of two songs influenced by iconic blues guitarist Otis Rush, Rens’ solo on the way out using the same kind of ominously offcenter passing tones that Rush would typically employ when he played it live. Bad Time for the Future is not an apocalyptic anthem, but another angry breakup song, again setting sunbaked guitar leads to a slinky, clanging clave beat.

Crumbling at my Feet is more or less a funky, latin-flavored take on Otis Rush’s All Your Love. Taylor contributes an enigmatic instrumental that evokes U2 at their darkest and most focused, followed by the practically eighteen-minute Evening Star, a towering global warming-era parable that shifts from echoes of surf rock, to latin art-rock and hypnotically enveloping spacerock fueled by Rens’ pulsing dying-quasar leads. The band speeds it up and then pulls back again, Wrigley calmly narrating a sinister scenario:

The hands of darkness lead the hands of fate
To come push your heavy stone across your gate
Here comes a day of solar breeze
This storm will bake the earth and reap the seas
Our world is changed, it’s final call
Something’s for nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing at all

Ultimately, we’re all outrunning the sun, and this band knows that. That’s one of the reasons they’re important.

A Killer Free Download from Jamband the Delta Saints

 

Nashville jamband the Delta Saints call themselves “bayou rockers,” but while it’s true that they draw on New Orleans sounds, they’re a lot more diverse. Although they can be funky, they’re first and foremost a rock band. And while most people think of New Orleans music as ecstatic and celebratory – and a lot of it is – that music has a dark side, and the Delta Saints absolutely get that. If long, smoldering psychedelic jams with searing guitar and trippy keyboards are your thing, go to their site and download their killer new ep, Drink It Slow, for free (you can also stream it at Soundcloud). It’s the closest you’re going to get to their Feb 15 show at Irving Plaza opening for newschool outlaw country band Blackberry Smoke because that show is sold out. Is that cool or what? A country band and a delta-flavored jamband selling out a venue the size of Irving Plaza – has that ever happened in New York, let alone during this never-ending depression?

Don’t be fooled by the fact that that the ep has only three tracks: there’s more music than you would expect. It’s rare that you find a band that can go on to such great lengths yet still be as purposeful and consistently interesting as the Delta Saints are. Their not-so-secret weapon is lead guitarist Dylan Fitch, a monster blues player who can be very fast and frenetic, but he doesn’t waste notes. Likewise, Nate Kremer, the band’s keyboardist, who switches effortlessly from icepick piano lines, to swirling, majestic organ, and electric piano, varying his textures from echoey deep-space sonics to sly wah-wah licks.

Frontman Ben Ringel’s burning electric dobro kicks off the first track, Cigarettte with snarling riffage over drummer Ben Azi’s loose, laid-back, funky shuffle before the organ and piano wash in like a volcanic vent on the riverbottom. It’s a revenge anthem: Ringel tells the girl he wants to feel her choke from that smoke. Ouch! The second song, Crazy, is the centerpiece and it is a doozy, a nine-minute epic that works a slow, slinky noir blues groove with all kinds of up-and-down dynamics, a precise, angst-fueled Fitch solo and every keyboard texture in this band’s arsenal. Again, Azi’s drumming is just plain killer, hanging along a misterioso edge with his boomy kickdrum and haunting cymbal work during the song’s quieter moments. The last song is Drink It Slow, a live take that’s the funkiest thing here (although it’s more of a soul song) and another showcase for the keys: organ, wah Rhodes and finally a gritty explosion of guitar as bassist David Supica finally takes the band upward as it nears the end. The Delta Saints pretty much live on the road, so they’ll probably be back in town before you know it.

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